Historical Trauma: The Beginning of a Conversation

I debated the best way to approach this post, as I knew there were several points to include, but no clear path for laying it all out. Perhaps it begins with the occasions in which people have asked me why we should discuss historical trauma as a component of medical-forensic education. Or maybe it goes much farther back, to the early years of my career when one of the big dogs in our professional circles confronted me, without a trace of irony, about why we needed to tailor training to meet the needs of individual communities, since the body parts were all the same, regardless of the community in which we were training. Ultimately it didn’t matter–I just knew this was going to need to be the focus of a post when I clicked on the daily email I receive from TED yesterday, and watched the featured talk.

I’m a fan of Dr. Brittney Cooper‘s; I follow her on Twitter, enjoy her regular column at Salon. In watching her TED talk, The Racial Politics of Time, I was struck by how closely connected her premise was to the concept of historical trauma. Historical trauma is defined as “the cumulative, multigenerational, collective experience of emotional and psychological injury in communities and in descendants.” She wasn’t talking about historical trauma by name–she was calling out one of the clear underpinnings of historical trauma, racism, and how it impacts whole communities. But as I listened to her speak, I was struck [again] by how important it is for us to have these deeper conversations about oppression in all its forms, to visit (and re-visit) the concept of historical trauma as one type of trauma our patients may experience; and to incorporate these concepts into baseline and continuing education in our field. It’s a good idea simply at face value, but when you add to that the reality that a significant percentage of clinicians staffing forensic programs do not reflect the racial or cultural makeup of the patients they serve, well, this becomes an even more important conversation to have. Want to serve your patients more effectively? Take the time to watch talks like this and others (have you seen 13th yet?). Discuss them and dive deeper (here’s Dr. Cooper’s reading list, for instance)–on your own and with your team. Trying to decide what topics you want to cover at your advanced forensic education course this year, or your annual SART retreat? This is a good one to add into the mix. This point she makes early in her talk alone reinforces why we need to have these conversations in our professional circles:

Now, when Barack Obama became President of the US in 2008, many Americans declared that we were post-racial. I’m from the academy where we’re enamored with being post-everything. We’re postmodern, we’re post-structural, we’re post-feminist. “Post” has become a simple academic appendage that we apply to a range of terms to mark the way we were. But prefixes alone don’t have the power to make race and racism a thing of the past. The US was never “pre-race.” So to claim that we’re post-race when we have yet to grapple with the impact of race on black people, Latinos or the indigenous is disingenuous. Just about the moment we were preparing to celebrate our post-racial future, our political conditions became the most racial they’ve been in the last 50 years.

The Racial Politics of Time
is twelve and a half minutes; there’s a lot of learning packed in there. Take the time to hear the lesson:

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